On Time as a Metaphorical Construct

18 Apr On Time as a Metaphorical Construct

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly – cover date 3.4.23


It’s funny what pops into your head while you’re doing the housework. This is one of those times when your body is busy but your mind is not fully engaged, so it can land on any thought it fancies.

What my mind fancied to land on was a movie I watched as a kid on our black & white TV about a family with twelve kids. “Cheaper by the Dozen” was made in 1950. (I was watching Sunday afternoon re-runs decades later, don’t be rude.) In it, the mother is a psychologist and the father is a time-and-motion-study efficiency expert.

There’s a definite feminist lilt to it (she’s no shrinking violet) and I enjoyed the comedy of watching a grown man use a stopwatch to work out if it was more efficient to start buttoning your cardigan from the top or the bottom. (From the top, I seem to recall – certainly that’s the approach I have since adopted.)

I thought about daft old Clifton Webb and his stopwatch while I was wrestling with my duvet, pulling off the old cover and stuffing it into the fresh one. I hate this job. I will happily change the sheets every five minutes, but woman-handling the super king duvet into a fresh casing is a monster chore, I don’t care how many YouTube hacks you watch, and I will put it off for as long as possible.

Anyway, I did it and, though it wasn’t the most fun I’ve ever had in the bedroom, I suddenly realised This Did Not Take Very Long At All. Certainly not the marathon effort I had envisaged. Hence thinking of Clifton and wishing I’d used his stopwatch so I could report specifically how much actual time it had taken. Next duvet change, I promise.

I feel tempted now to knuckle down and do one of those proper ‘on-your-hands-and-knees’ washes of my wooden floors, which in my anticipatory head takes all freaking day, but could probably be done properly in half an hour? Again, I should time it for perspective.

There is, perhaps, an effort-to-satisfaction ratio at play here. A tidy drawer or an organised pantry offers more long term visual joy than a – snore – different duvet cover or briefly shiny floor.

More things seem to take longer than they actually do. In my head, doing my accounts takes forever so I don’t even start till I have a clear day in front of me. But then I shocked myself when I started casually pulling things together for a tax return late one afternoon and accidentally finished it by dinner time.

Balancing out these chores that take less time than you think are things you imagine will happen lickety-split but take for-jolly-ever. Losing weight after menopause. Monday morning admin. Defrosting anything, especially when hungry. Waiting for a parcel to arrive and – but of course – waiting to get paid.

But I have a pretty good handle on how long other things take. Ironing? Three sitcoms or two episodes of a British drama. Trimming the hedge along the driveway is one full sized podcast. Scrubbing the shower tends to take one Kim Hill interview.

These are measures of time adopted in some part because we barely wear watches now. But really, none of this is new. Back in the 1980s, after my Great-Aunt Ruth died, Great-Uncle Frank taught himself to cook and cheerfully informed the family that the perfectly boiled potato took two gins.

I could try that with the duvet cover. And then take a nap.